Game Highlights: Gregori 35, Merced 14
The Gregori High football team changed its stars with one transfer, an acquisition few have discussed, debated or dissected.
Over the summer, offensive mastermind Scott Vincent left Modesto High for the Jaguars, a young but promising large-school program. He arrived a position coach, content with just working with the quarterbacks, but soon graduated to offensive coordinator.
With Vincent on staff, sixth-year coach Jason McCoy saw an opportunity to use assistant and former Johansen head coach Marcus Whitten's expertise in other areas.
“Scott, he came in to be our quarterbacks coach. That’s all he wanted,” McCoy said. “Then we saw an opportunity for coach Marcus to help me. He took a team-first approach. It took us awhile to get it rolling, but now that Scott’s in there, he’s a great leader, the kids love him and he’s getting all the coaches involved.”
His influence has turned Gregori (8-0, 4-0) into an offensive juggernaut on the cusp of the program’s first Modesto Metro Conference championship. The Jaguars are one of just four unbeaten teams in the Stanislaus District and ranked No. 4 in The Bee’s latest power ranking.
“He’s fully committed,” McCoy said of Vincent, who spent nearly two decades at Modesto High as an assistant. “When the kids see a coach who is all in like he is, it makes you want to play all-out for him. He’s definitely passionate about what he does.”
And he’s quite good at it, too.
Gregori can clinch at least a share of the title on Friday against surging Modesto High (6-2, 4-0), Vincent’s former team. The seventh-ranked Panthers jumped back into the power rankings following a 38-28 victory over five-time defending champion Downey last week.
In that game, Vincent’s former protege delivered an MVP performance. Dual-threat quarterback Norvale Howard had 307 yards of total offense and accounted for three touchdowns, and his leadership has galvanized a team largely overlooked in the race for league supremacy.
Howard rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown, and finished 8 of 18 for 199 passing yards and two scores. It was the first time he passed for more than 100 yards since Sept. 9, 2016.
“It’s something I’ve seen in Norvale for a long, long time,” Modesto coach Brett Wagner said of Howard’s leadership ability. “I’ve been fortunate enough to watch him grow over the years, from his freshman year to now. Talking with him throughout the year, he realizes it more and more. He realizes what he means to this team and how powerful his voice can be.”
Vincent’s influence can’t be ignored.
In 16 seasons at Modesto High, Vincent worked with three MVP quarterbacks: Klayton Miller (2010), Tiki Tonga (2013), and Nate Phillips (2014). Max McCabe was named the MMC’s Back of the Year in 2015.
While Howard may be the top dual-threat talent in the Stanislaus District, Vincent’s current pupil, Gregori senior Bobby Avina, is the highest rated passer in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Avina is completing 73.4 percent of his passes for 2,062 yards and 24 touchdowns. He has thrown just three interceptions, second-fewest in the district among QBs with at least 115 passing attempts.
The Jaguars’ offense is only getting stronger, too, culminating with last week’s 41-14 victory over Davis. Avina connected on 19 of his 24 passes for a season-high 392 yards and four touchdowns.
McCoy said Avina’s spike in production over the last five games has coincided with his comfort level with Vincent. The closer they grow, the more potent the Jaguars’ Spread becomes. Gregori is averaging 40 points per game and features a multi-prong attack, including: 6-foot-5 tight end Gabe Sanchez, explosive junior wide receiver Marcello Longstreth, and running back Mason Medrano, who has scored 12 TDs.
“I think there’s a really good chemistry with our offense right now,” McCoy said. “I think Bobby has taken control. Coach Vincent came in and really got our offense going after he took sole possession of offensive coordinator after Week 1.
“Understanding the offense has take some time,” he added. “But we’re making good reads, good checks and good calls at the line of scrimmage. Really, with this offense, you can do a lot with it and our quarterback has taken great command.”
Avina has a passer rating of 146.3. The Panthers have faced three of the top QBs in the southern half of the section, including Downey’s Bryce Peterson and Patterson’s Gabe Sanchez.
“He’s a serious threat. We can’t take him lightly,” Wagner said. “We’ve faced a lot of good quarterbacks, so we’ll continue to do what we do. We’re not blind to his ability, though.”